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Tea Party forum spotlights candidates

MANATEE — The Manatee County commissioner who wins District 4, Ron Getman’s soon-to-be vacated seat, will step into a government reeling under budget cuts.

But that hasn’t stopped four candidates for wanting a go of it.

The race pits three Republicans — former county planner Norm Luppino, former boat and industrial manufacturing executive Tim Norwood and Realtor Robin DiSabatino — against Democrat Roger C. Galle, a teacher at Lakewood Ranch High School.

“We are all different and all come from different backgrounds,” DiSabatino said in characterizing what may be a very lively race.

Thanks to a question-and-answer forum Sunday hosted by Tea Party Manatee at Mixon Fruit Farms, roughly 200 people got to hear these candidates, followed by a group of school board contestants, tackle the issues.

Countless more could watch the forum streaming on the web site

“We came up with some tough, but fair questions so that our voters can be informed,” said Steve Vernon of Tea Party Manatee.

School board candidates were asked if they thought Manatee County should track students who are in the country illegally.

“It’s illegal to track the legal status of our students,” said incumbent Jane R. Pfeilsticker, who is battling Julie Aranibar and Albert Yusko. “But if it were legal to track, the data would be a good option.”

Pfeilsticker said Manatee County schools are comprised of 30 percent Hispanic students.

David Bailey, who is running against incumbent Barbara A. Harvey and favors tracking if it were legal, said he has gone to Guatemala and worked with students.

“My approach would be to make things better in their country so they won’t have to come here,” he said.

Aranibar called the school district’s program for non-English-speaking students “a crutch.”

“This is America and our language is English,” Aranibar said, drawing applause.

Karen Carpenter, who is running unopposed for District 5, said she would be in favor of tracking to find out what services the students needed.

Harvey, whose trademark is always her passion for children, said she wouldn’t object to tracking if it didn’t change how the students were treated.

“I don’t want a child sitting in a class where the teacher is thinking, ‘I don’t have to do much with you,’’’ Harvey said.

The candidates for county commission were asked what the county could outsource to save money.

Galle didn’t exactly answer the question, but he drew applause when he said he sees waste in Manatee County government despite the recent deep cuts.

“One way Manatee County can save money is to have a whole lot less trucks running around burning gasoline,” Galle said. “I continue to see five guys standing around a hole and one guy with a shovel.”

Luppino, who was a county planner for 23 years, had experience at his grasp.

“When we can get a private developer to build a road, it’s much cheaper and more efficient,” Luppino said.

Michael Gallen, running for District 2 county commission against Gwen Brown, had an interesting answer to that question.

He believes if developers could be motivated to build in the county’s urban core rather than “in our pastures,” it would be better in the long run.

DeSabatino offered that other county operations could be privatized.

Carol Whitmore, the District 6 at-large candidate running for reelection, didn’t have any challenger at the forum. Sundae Lynn Knight, her opponent, did not attend.

Whitmore is focused on jobs and says the county has to find a way to generate them in its District 4 industrial sector.

That’s where Norwood got plenty of response.

“I talk manufacturing,” he said.

He pictures himself, if elected, driving to Georgia and other nearby states to hit the pavement to entice business into Manatee County.

“Let’s give them any kind of breaks we can,” he said.

Norwood promised that if he were elected, Manatee County would be on TV in about a year in a national story about one county’s economic turnaround.